10 Favorite Things

By May 17, 2016Life

I recently made a list of ten of my favorite things, to share with the awesome Uncommon in Common community. This was fun, so I figured, why not share with the rest of the world while I’m at it?

General somewhat-arbitrary self-imposed constraints: these ten things don’t include specific versions of anything (places, people, items, whatever). They’re more like platonic containers of the types of things I most love. And it should go without saying this is a non-exhaustive list! For example, I did not include pizza, or smoothies, or listening to music, or […] but that’s okay. It’s my list and it’s nice and simple and it only has ten things.

Without further ado…10 Favorite Things:

Bookstores

I like libraries, but I love bookstores. There’s something exciting about the comprehensiveness of libraries, the scholarly aura of great ones…but I grew up in Seattle, land of great used book stores; my dad worked in one and it was almost a second home growing up. So I’m somewhat biased. I love the organizational personalities of bookstores, the randomness within order of the books you’re liable to find, from last year’s bestsellers to obscure buried gems. It’s fun to read the character and ethos of a bookstore by not only the general trends of inventory but by the particularities of how books are arranged, how the place smells, the density of shelving and the taxonomy of sections, exactingly labeled or seeming to emerge from the chaos in fits and waves. And the type of bookstores I gravitate towards are the quintessential local business, distinct in character and always promising something new.

Books

I love keeping track of my “Antilibrary” — the exciting intellectual negative space and infinite imaginative potential formed by all the fascinating books I’ve yet to read! From Dad’s collected (and, okay, hoarded) book-sprawl to my own rapidly densifying Ikea shelves to my several Amazon wish lists — so much to read! Too much, in fact. One of the joys and challenges of life is coming to terms with that — it’s a good microcosmic representation of all that I’ll never learn and experience given the whole inevitable mortality thing.

To ground this further in the actual favorite-books arena — here are a few of the best I’ve read recently: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Don Quixote, Moby Dick, Le Ton beau de Marot, Gaia, Origins of Form, bolo’bolo, Dune, Eunoia, Flatland, Invisible Cities, Deschooling Society, The Size of Thoughts, The Starship and the Canoe, My Unwritten Books, The Moonstone, Clock of the Long Now, Autonauts of the Cosmoroute, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Cat’s Cradle, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Library at Night, Mindstorms, Impro, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Cosmicomics, Thinking in Systems: A Primer, Just Kids [more here!]

And a few favorites from my antilibrary: The Book of Trees, Diffusion of Innovations, After Babel, The Timeless Way of Building, Playing at the World, Gravity’s Rainbow, Perceptrons, Making the Modern World, The I Ching, Hopscotch, Cool Tools, On Dialogue, Superintelligence, The Power Broker, The Gormenghast Novels, The Control of Nature, Maps of Time, From the Tree to the Labyrinth [more here!]

Walking

Hiking, strolling, the derive…ambulatory exploration, mountainous exertion, and so forth…I like walking of many stripes and strides; from mountain hikes with friends, to my evening commute home in Brooklyn (when the weather’s agreeable), to exploring nearby neighborhoods and foreign cities. I have memories of long walks at night around my neighborhood in Seattle growing up, high school age; some with our dog when we had one, some just because I wanted too. There’s something special about late night walks where you’re alone and the city has quieted and the darkness blankets your surroundings. It begins to feel smaller, like you’re walking a labyrinth rather than an open urban grid. Likewise there’s something special about tracing the trails up and down and around mountains and hills and the great beautiful outdoors. The obvious natural beauty and feeling of freedom, perhaps, but also…something hard to pin down, a rush of oxygenation, an expanding sense of time, of connection extending sideways from dirt to tree to lake, and upwards beyond the ceiling of the sky…

The Internet

The Internet’s an amazing place, and an amazing way of being, of creating and connecting — a lot of great things at once! It’s an infinite library, a chameleonic social destination, a medium of exchange (money, attention, information, more) — and it remains ever-full of possibility and surprises. A maybe-shocking number of the things I’ve read, watched, and learned from, I’ve found and consumed via the Internet. I spend more waking hours online than I do anywhere else besides my bed (and even there it’s close). It’s the number one most essential tool of both my job and the majority of my leisure activities.

Lists

Given my interest in containers of the infinite, I value things that apply constraints, that draw edges and issue borders and add definition. Lists can serve as organizational tools, catalogs and bookmarks, taxonomies, personal collections — talismans to counteract the constant onrush of the too-much, the never-finished, the keeps-flowing. It has something to do with attempting to harness as much knowledge and creativity as I can, to absorb and somehow digest the best of the chaos.

A great list can serve as proxy (well, one of many) for making sense of life and of the world. I like lists to keep track of things, lists to establish connections and hierarchies, lists that cast relationships and genealogies of ideas into legible form. I have a few favorite lists, some physical but most digital: from Amazon wish lists to my “personal canon” to Pinboard to Goodreads. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Wikipedia articles: List of lists of lists.

Chocolate

Dark as hell. I used to prefer milk chocolate, but I’ll admit I was wrong. I’ve learned to appreciate nuances of flavor here (and with coffee too, even more recently) and now good dark chocolate is my favorite treat. My favorites range from the ordinary luxury of Scharffen-Berger 82% dark, to the special only-in-Seattle-holiday-treat of Fran’s dark chocolate sea salt caramels.

Hip-Hop Lyricism

Hip-hop is hands-down my favorite kind of poetry. It’s not always easy to find, let alone create — but in my experience great hip-hop contains a dimension of power and viscerality that transcends written words. I started appreciating, even writing, hop-hop at a relatively young age, but I’ve been getting back into it more recently, which has deepened the long-held love.

Great raps combine effortless musicality and delivery with complicated multi-syllabic rhymes, intricate metaphors, storytelling and self-expression and wisdom. It’s possible to create an illusion of words effortlessly fitting together, while employing such poetic constructs as internal rhyme, enjambment, and repetition. I love the sound of complicated rhymes, and the high expressive potential of the genre. If the Oulipo had been started today I bet a bunch of its members would have written rap lyrics. There’s a massive amount of cleverness and intuitive mastery and love of language embedded in the best rap lyrics — at least that’s what I aspire to when I practice this art myself.

Writing

A few years ago I might have listed photography or film or even just “media” (depending how far back we go) but I now realize the creative medium I most love and appreciate and enjoy practicing is writing. Why?

First, it’s so damn flexible; it can be put in service of almost any goal, bent to the creative will in myriad marvelous ways.

Second, it’s in some ways nice and simple to practice, requiring very few tools or external resources save for a strong imagination. It can be done almost anywhere, even inside you own head.

Third, despite this accessibility and low barrier to entry, its possibilities, and challenges, are infinite. I feel like neither I (personally) nor we (like, all of human civilization) have come anywhere close to exploring the possibilities and powers writing bestows.

Learning

I’ve become enormously interested in how learning happens, and what makes learning experiences particularly memorable and effective. I’m fascinated with how communities and spaces for learning emerge; I’m interested in creating engaging learning events of my own and finding others with whom I can embark on shared exploration of the topics I want to dive into. Learning how to learn is a gift that keeps on giving; it’s one of the great pleasures and purposes of life, a way to stave off boredom and connect dots in unexpected ways.

Right now, things I love to learn about include: constrained writing, improvisation, fictional forms, translation, computation, programming, history of technology, worldbuilding, pedagogy, community-building, libraries, organizing information, biology and ecology, deep time, complexity theory, alternative economics, digital media-making and distribution, and entrepreneurial design. I aim to keep learning as much as possible, in as many different ways as I can!

Balls

You know, spheroids! Seriously though, I like throwing and catching, kicking and bouncing, hitting balls and shooting hoops. The latter especially. There’s something therapeutic in the repetitive nature of it, the rhythm of clanks and bounces and swishes, the hot streak flow state, the variation of patterns. I grew up playing several sports, but basketball was the one I’d obsess over, play at recess and after school, at the park on weekends. It was the sport teenage-me watched most on TV (overtaking preteen-me’s minor obsession with baseball), and continued to play (casually, intramurally) in high school and college. Even now, I keep a kid-sized indoor hoop above my bathroom doorway, an when it’s nice out, and the courts aren’t too crowded, I’ll sometimes head to the court near my apartment and shoot around til it gets too dark to see.

One Comment

  • Hi Brendan,
    It is interesting to see who you are becoming and how you are finding ways to uniquely express yourself. I wish we had been able to share more of our lives over the years but perhaps now is a good place to start. I too love to write and to explore ideas to see where they may lead to. In economics, I have been developing a new paradigm for capitalism, exploring the 5 constituencies of all businesses: Shareholders/Owners, Employees, Customers, Regulators, and the Community at large. So, instead of there being one primary duty, that to make a profit for the owners, there are in reality 5 pairs of duties deriving from each of a company’s constituents. e.g. there is a duty of a company to it’s employees and a duty of its employees to their company, and so on. Another topic of exploration is to try and develop an equivalent system of ideas for subjective internal experience as there is in the scientific method for understanding external things. I also have enjoyed photography over the years as well as writing poetry. Perhaps we may now start to know each other, I hope. Best wishes for you, Theodore Schlagel

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